Sunday, 1 April 2018

The Wired guide to memes

Wired has an article titled "THE WIRED GUIDE TO MEMES" out. It is subtitled "Everything you ever wanted to know about Nyan Cat, Doge, and the art of the Rickroll." The authors are Angela Watercutter and Emma Grey Ellisby. Most of the article is about internet memes. It credits Richard Dawkins, for the origin of the term "meme", but goes on to argue that memes "have evolved into something much different than what Dawkins originally envisioned". It says:

Dawkins coined the term in 1976, in his book The Selfish Gene, long before the modern internet, before memes morphed into what they are now. Back then, Dawkins was talking about passing along culture—song melodies, art styles, whatever. Today, denizens of the internet think of memes as jokes passed across social media in the form of image macros (those pictures of babies or cats or whatever with bold black-and-white words on them), hashtags (the thing you amended to what you just wrote on Twitter), GIFs (usually of a celebrity, reality star, or drag queen reacting to what you just wrote on Twitter), or videos (that Rick Astley video people used to send you).

This "incompatibilism" is bad. Content which people share widely on the internet are memes in Dawkins original sense. It is OK for people to use "meme" as shorthand for "internet meme", since so much social sharing takes place on the internet these days. But the people who say that "Milhouse is not a meme" - those people are just wrong. They lack basic meme literacy. "Milhouse is not an internet meme" would have more truth to it - though a lot of people stream The Simpsons over the internet these days.

The definition of "meme" has long been a controversial topic in memetics, but few have proposed or promoted confining the term to things shared on the internet - with Limor Shifman being the notable exception. We have the term "internet meme" for that.

No comments:

Post a Comment